College spring games exist at large football universities for several reasons. Well, I should say people attend them for several reasons, they only exist for one: so the school can get an enormous pay day by staging a faux-scrimmage, which in actuality is nothing more than an elaborate practice that fans purchase tickets too for a nominal fee. But this is all well and good. The school gets its million or so dollars and fans get an excuse to drink in the morning (before the game) and afternoon (during and after the game). It’s a win-win, and even though the school brings in a lot of money, at least at schools like Ohio State, the tickets are never more than $10.
Being back in Columbus for a few weeks afforded me the opportunity to attend the 2012 Spring game, which along with the ushering in of Urban Meyer, was one of the more anticipated in recent memory. Even still, you don’t anticipate much fanfare because they’re a complete spectacle made to exploit American’s overwhelming need to watch young adults fight over an oval shaped leather ball (Just look at the Game of Thrones-esque drills being ran for the audience’s amusement in the inset). But what we saw on Saturday was disturbing, engaging, hopeful and unreasonably entertaining, all at the same time.
A little over 81,000 people showed up to the “game” to set an NCAA record. If the weather had been what it was the five days beforehand, I’d venture to guess we would have seen closer to 85-95,000. Instead, from Friday night to Saturday afternoon the temperature dropped roughly thirty degrees, the wind started howling and the rain slowly and lightly fell. As a result, the B-deck (the section with overhead protection from the rain by C-deck) was packed. Such is life in Columbus, Ohio; where the weather fluctuates worse than Lamar Odom’s mood swings.
For those that were there to see actual football, everyone in attendance was there to see Urban Meyer run the team, and just how similar the offense he displayed would resemble what he ran in Florida and Utah. He stormed onto the field sporting shorts and a windbreaker, seemingly completely forgetting he was no longer in Gainesville. But as we came to find out, he spent more time moving around the field than most of his players, effortlessly commanding and advising offensive and defensive players as he deemed necessary, seemingly controlling every aspect of his new found team. Whether it was imagined or not, this is something OSU has felt was missing from the program for the last 18+ months.
In short, the man has, as the kids would say these days, “swag”. I’m not even entirely sure what that means, but it seems appropriate even if undefinable. The play-calling was just a welcomed change of pace, even if Meyer admitted their offense will be less pass-heavy in the future. While the two quarterbacks looked unremarkable, watching them repeatedly roll-out of the pocket to make short yardage pass after short yardage pass, seemed to make everyone in the stadium long forget about the conservative play-calling we’ve bore witness too since Troy Smith and his bevy of receivers (Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn & Anthony Gonzalez) were all drafted into the NFL. And while Ohio State still won’t be passing as much then as they will this season under Meyer, the formations will likely look similar and the offense almost certainly more productive.
As a result, it didn’t seem like anyone paid much attention to the defense. The newly renovated offense and the short, limited presentation stole the show. Besides, while the defense may take a hit in numbers, it will be mostly the result of the offense forcing the issue of actually scoring as opposed to controlling the clock. I’m hopeful most OSU fans will realize this and not look at points allowed as the sole metric when comparing Urban Meyer’s defense against Jim Tressel’s, but I’m skeptical.
For your average fan, however, what makes the Spring game so worthwhile has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, most of what happens on the field is superfluous. While it’s nice to watch “your” team take the field in mid-April, it’s still a practice in mid-April. Essentially, it’s never indicative of anything. If it were, Jamal Berry, Torrian Washington, Bam Childress and countless others would have all been All-Americans for Ohio State. As it stands they’re all but forgotten names, the only reason they’re still remembered is for just how disappointing they were and they played in the past five years.
The cost of entry is justified by 81,000 people on a miserable day for simple reasons: atmosphere and the aforementioned insatiable need for any sort of football. On a tangible level, spring games are inherently meaningless. They offer no sense of what the team will look like at the start of the season, because the season is still 4-5 months away; coach’s rarely reveal what they have planned for the long haul, a lot of the players you see during the spring game will rarely take the field during the season and when they do, they almost look universally transformed during opening week.
But that’s all irrelevant. Virtually nothing happened at the spring game other than Mike Thomas looked promising for Ohio State’s inexperienced receiving corps, Urban Meyer going all poor man’s King Joffrey on his name day, and the 15-month old girl two rows in front of us that spent five straight minutes making a farting noise with her mouth while establishing eye contact with everyone she could see over her mom’s shoulder; solidifying my belief that you shouldn’t ever take your child anywhere unless they’re capable of developing memories.
And that’s what drives fans to devote almost an entire day to watching college kids run a scrimmage: memories. Like the time the Buckeyes beat Michigan en route to winning a national title (2002), or beat an undefeated Michigan team en route to losing a national title (2006), or upset Michigan after a tremendously disappointing season (2004). You get the idea. The objective is to go and enjoy the day, hoping to relive something that isn’t entirely relivable. College football is about isolated, once in a lifetime moments of crushing heartbreak, unexplainable joy, overwhelming relief and emotional exhaustion. The spring game offers the allusion of all the good things without the consequences from any of the bad. If you’re wondering what the actual motive for 81,000+ filing into Ohio Stadium was, this is probably it.